In commemoration of San Francisco’s Juneteenth holiday, Mayor London N. Breed today unveiled Monumental Reckoning, a two-year art installation in Golden Gate Park honoring Black history and lives.
The piece, by Bay Area artist Dana King, consists of 350 black sculptural figures standing 4 feet high in the park’s Music Concourse. Representing the 350 souls kidnapped from Africa and forced onto the slave ship San Juan Bautista in 1619, they surround the empty pedestal where a statue of Francis Scott Key once stood. Protestors toppled the statue on Juneteenth of 2020. Key, who wrote the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner, was a slave owner and abolition opponent.
A procession led by Black women preceded the art opening as members of the Glide Ensemble sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Civil rights champion James Weldon Johnson’s hymn is often referred to as the Black National Anthem.
The ceremony comes one day after Joe Biden signed a resolution establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, a U.S. holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
“Juneteenth is a recognition of our culture and accomplishments, but it’s also a solemn reminder of the bonds of slavery and the struggle for equality that continues today,” said Mayor Breed. “Monumental Reckoning honors that painful history while celebrating our resilience and our future. It is civic art that allows the public to think, feel and explore in a place that belongs to all of us.”
“I want Monumental Reckoning to be a space where people come to commune with the ancestors—to laugh, cry, sing, dance and recite poetry. More importantly, I pray that people will speak to others who don’t look like them, sharing stories that lead to deeper understanding and connection, making choices that lead us all to freedom,” King said.
“Despite what outdated history books have stated, the United States of America actually began in 1619 when a group of enslaved Africans arrived in Jamestown, Virginia. That was the beginning of building a white supremacist nation,” stated Director of Cultural Affairs Ralph Remington. “Since that time all people of African ancestry have struggled to breathe free in a country that wasn't designed for them, but instead used them as mules to build its immense wealth. Stolen people on stolen lands. I am gobsmacked that amidst all of the pain suffered by Black people over centuries, that this country still practices pernicious and malicious indifference regarding our collective struggle. Dana King's 350 sculptures confront us with references to the individual souls—our ancestors—who were stolen from Africa 400 years ago. It is a clarion call.”
“Black history is central to understanding American history, yet for far too long it was diminished or inaccurately portrayed. Hosting this extraordinary art installation in Golden Gate Park amplifies the African American experience, allowing millions of visitors from across the world to reflect on the legacy of slavery, the incredible contributions of Black Americans, and the power of art in our public spaces,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg.
Monumental Reckoning will run until June 20, 2023. A proposed companion piece by Illuminate the Arts, the words “Lift Every Voice” shining from atop the Spreckels Temple of Music, will go before the Historic Preservation Commission for approval July 21.